‘Manhattan’ Cast Talk Secrecy and World War II at Paley Center Panel

John Benjamin Hickey, Olivia Williams, Rachel
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

The cast and creator of WGN America’s second original series “Manhattan” talked to Variety about keeping secrets, living in isolation and their personal connections to this story on the red carpet at the Paley Center for Media Wednesday night.

“The idea that there was a time where a secret of that magnitude could be kept — it’s unfathomable,” said “Manhattan” creator and exec producer Sam Shaw.

The show centers on the Manhattan Project during the 1940s, when a $2 billion military project to develop the first atomic bomb took place off the books. A secret city was set up and not only did the American public not know about it, but the vice president didn’t know about it either.

“There are aspects in the world of the show that feel so foreign to a contemporary viewer,” Shaw said. “We live in an a moment now where Jay Z has a fight with his sister-in-law and I know about it 45 minutes later on Twitter.”

Both Shaw and actress Olivia Williams said they would have tanked the whole project if it were up to them keeping a secret.

“I’m hopeless, don’t tell me anything unless you want everyone to know,” Williams said. “I’ve never been on Twitter or Facebook because it would be a disaster.”

Director and exec producer Thomas Schlamme felt a personal connection to the show as both of his parents were immigrants and fled Nazi Germany right before the war. “It’s a really wonderful thing to pay tribute to the generation they were a part of.”

Williams also said it was easy for her to relate to her character because of her connection with her grandmother. “It was in my grandmother’s lifetime and she told me stories about that and why that war happened.” The actress is even using some of her grandmother’s possessions as props in the show.

And for John Benjamin Hickey, trying to relate to his character was easy. “I did think about like not so long ago, when our nation’s not very distant past, we were unified as a country. There was no red or blue dividing line, we were all unified to win this war,” said Hickey. “The passion of trying to save lives, I found it very easy to relate to.”

Of “Manhattan’s” isolated community, Daniel Stern said he would probably lose himself, while Williams joked about how much she wouldn’t enjoy it. “Obviously, as an actor who complains quite a lot if my M&Ms are the wrong color, you question how many things you actually need to survive.”

“Manhattan” airs July 27.

(Pictured: John Benjamin Hickey, Olivia Williams, Rachel Brosnahan, Ashley Zuckerman, director Thomas Schlamme, creator/writer Sam Shaw, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Daniel Stern at WGN America’s “Manhattan” panel at the Paley Center)

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  1. Jeffrey McQueen says:

    I also have a copy of Fr. Macelwane, S.J.’s application for Q-Level clearance. Fr. Macelwane of St. Louis University was the Einstein of seismology and helped the U.S. Government choose the locations of our missile sites and set-up seismological listening sites around the World to ensure non-nuclear proliferation adherence. Fr. Macelwane recommended my great-uncle, Fr. Michael DeLisle Lyons, to become the supplier of the final piece of the bomb: beryllium. At Fr. Mike’s funeral in 1974 half of the attendees were Jesuits from St. Regis University in Denver, CO. The other half were employees of Rocky Flats Nuclear facility where the W88 (Trident II) warheads were made). The Rocky Flats wondered why so many Jesuits were there, and the Jesuits wondered why so many people were there from Rocky Flats? When the Rocky Flats employees saw Fr. Mike’s burial card, they learned he was a priest. The Jesuits were shocked to ind Fr. Mike had been supplying beryllium to the US government from 1944 to 1974.

  2. Jeffrey McQueen says:

    Would like to tell Sam Shaw the story of Father Michael DeLisle Lyons, a Jesuit priest, who supplied the final piece off the bomb: beryllium for the initiator. Fr. Mike had Q-Level and supplied the beryllium from 1945 to 1974 when he died from Beryl Lung Disease. Fr. Mike was my great-uncle. You can read the story i wrote in 1995, entitled: “WWJ, a Jesuit and the Bomb.”

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